A day at Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy

Words by BRIDGET HARILAOU, photo by GAELE SOBOTT

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Paying a visit to the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy is good for your health. I’m dead serious. From sitting around the fire and having a yarn, to playing with the kids, to free dinner and making a bunch of new friends, the community, education and inspiration of the Embassy is incomparable. Here’s how my visit on Tuesday January 6, 2015 went.

After wandering into camp at about 4.30pm, I was invited into the shade of a tent to get out of the heat. I was chatting with some people staying at the Embassy and laughing at the antics of the most adorable baby, when some police from Redfern station stopped by. Apparently they had received a call from someone called ‘Amanda’ saying that Aunty Jenny (an Indigenous elder and leader of the Embassy) had been spotted here, breaching her bail conditions. Besides this information being factually incorrect, this phone call shows the constant persecution faced by the Embassy. The caller knew about Aunt Jenny’s arrest (she was assaulted by someone else on Embassy land, then arrested for it), the details of her bail conditions, and executed a calculated attempt to sabotage her before the court date. This is just a small example of the targeted attacks faced by activists fighting for Indigenous sovereignty in this country every day.

After the police left, a big group of kids came racing over from the playground throwing the Embassy into chaos! All the children were photographed for an exhibition celebrating the Embassy’s one-year anniversary. After the photo shoot I explored the Embassy’s organic community garden, showing one little 4-year-old girl the different smells of lemon balm and mint herbs, and talking to the two families who were visiting all the way from Moree. When the sun set, we all sat around the fire, watching some ‘Black Comedy’ YouTube videos (which are hilarious) and the feeling of community and friendship was warming. The fact that perfect strangers are welcome for a yarn really makes the Embassy a beautiful and comfortable space. We were entreated to stay for a feed by everyone there and everyone set about helping to cook. Once the pot was set on the fire, delicious smells began wafting through the camp. Maybe this is what entices a woman walking to Redfern station to stop and take a photo.

We all wave as she takes photos on her phone. Surprised, she waves back, looking unsure as we continue to beckon her over to the campfire. This is one of the things I love most about the Embassy, it welcomes anyone who is interested, even if they have no idea what the Embassy is! Tentatively, she starts to walk over to us, so I go around to show her the way into camp.

“Hello,” I say as she smiles nervously at me.

“Hello. What is this?”

I explain to her that it is a camp protesting the land sales that threaten to destroy the Aboriginal community centre and land known as ‘The Block’ for high-rise apartments.
“They shouldn’t sell it if there is already a community here!” She exclaims.

I know I’ve found a friend.

I invite her to join us for dinner, but she declines, saying it’s late and she has to go. I can’t quite remember why, but for some reason she says that she is Nepalese.
“My friend is Nepalese!” I respond, and immediately start throwing out the phrases he taught me.

“Mero nam Bridget ho,” “Santzay tsa?”

Her entire face lights up, as she laughs, probably at my horrible accent.

“Wow! It is so nice to hear Nepali. Where is your friend from?”

“A village near Pokhara.”

“I’m from Pokhara!”

“Wow!!”

It was a beautiful moment.

I gave her my phone number, in case she ever wanted to visit the Embassy, said goodbye and revelled in the wonder of how the Embassy brings people together.

By 8.00pm a sausage curry was cooking on the fire, and my friend Sonia and I were put in charge of making the rice. We washed it, put it on a stove to boil and laughed at the gentle teasing about how much we were stressing over cooking it! Once the rice was done, everyone ate together at the tables like one big family. The food was filling and tasty, with plenty to go around. More visitors arrived after dinner, and suddenly the camp was filled again. Some more unsavoury characters also visited, like a woman who claimed to be, “one sixteenth Aboriginal” but couldn’t tell us her country or mob or… anything really. I soon saw that First Nations folk can sniff out a liar in 3 seconds, and the possibly intoxicated woman was asked to leave. The rest of the night we chatted with an Iranian interior designer who had two Electrical Engineering degrees, two people who came to do a night watch to protect the Embassy from attacks, some Murri boys from Brisbane and so many more! By 10.30pm it was time to head home and we said goodbye to all the friends we’d made that day.

I had such a fantastic time and I made some amazing new friends that I would never have had the opportunity to meet without the Embassy. The community and family feel that you experience from a visit really puts the fire in your heart, and inspires you to more activism. Simply supporting First Nations people in claiming their land and community centre, through eating and chatting, sharing culture and making friends, is priceless. If you live in Sydney, the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy is literally across the road from Redfern station, and survives off of donations and grassroots support. Pay them a visit, don’t be shy! Everyone who is respectful and willing to learn is welcome at the Embassy.

 

This was originally published on ARMED. We thank them for letting us republish this piece and encourage you to check out the rad stuff they’re publishing at http://armedpublishing.tumblr.com

Reflections on the international student environment movement

Words by BREANA MACPHERSON-RICE

This was written after attending the five day summit of the World Student Environmental Network in the UK. Before this year, the WSEN has not been related to ASEN.

To preface: this piece is critical, but by no means does that come without praise. I had a great week at the World Student Environmental Network conference and am immensely appreciative of the work put in by the organisers – I took so much from the week and there is really no substitute for spending a decent amount of time with students from across the world sharing ideas. Still, I feel the need to share some critical feedback in the hope that this time can be more effectively used in future. I write this as an invitation for critical feedback and input in return, as I certainly don’t have all of the answers – actually, I have hardly any, but I do have a hope that together engage in a constructive dialogue that will begin this process.

***

It is a little past 3am here, and I sit sleepy in an airport café under a relentless stream of pop songs while my body and mind begin the recovery from an intensive 5-day conference. Truthfully, the WSEN summit left me with more questions than it answered – and perhaps I would have been suspicious if the opposite were true. The issues we face worldwide with the degradation of ecosystems that sustain human and nonhuman life are complex, often cumulative and interrelated in ways that evade anything other than fragmented understanding, let alone clear solutions. It’s probably also fair to say I am tainted with some cynicism, but only one that is fuelled by the love and rage that has been a product of my couple of years involved in the ‘environment movement’, witnessing many battles fought hard and lost while the successes predominantly occupy a scale overshadowed by simultaneous systemic destruction.

A motif of ‘inspired and inspiring’ reappeared through the conference, and while at times I certainly felt this – surrounded by critical youth with diverse perspectives and skills to create change – there were times when I also felt dismayed. Perhaps naively, I had hoped that a trip across the world and 5 full days could set up some sort of infrastructure for students to organise, share skills and resources, and critically evaluate in a long term sense to begin to force the conversations and actions demanded by current ecological crises. Instead, I feel we went home once again as individuals – with a broader perspective on issues and some amazing new friends, no less, but without a real network to facilitate large-scale change – at best, a network to create another summit in another year’s time. Maybe this was too much to ask, but I think that’s an excuse – we could have been more prepared.

Creating political space

Nearly every day of the summit, I found a lack of socio-political analysis and intersectionality applied to the issues of ‘environment’. While some speakers certainly centred this, others left me bored – take, for example, the comforting chat from Zero Carbon Britain, which was wonderful at demonstrating potential alternatives but glossed over the radical shifts necessary to make sure such changes should occur in a just manner. The huge power of the fossil fuel industry to block meaningful change was hardly figured as a problem; rather, it was suggested that we do not consider them as ‘enemies’ or try to undermine their power, in favour of a dubious and briefly explained plan to print money and buy all the fossil fuel reserves for renewable energy vouchers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think anyone has been saying we don’t have the alternatives necessary for a renewable future (or not anyone I’ve worked with!). What we don’t have is the political will or space to make these alternatives viable, and nor do I think we will achieve this without strategic action – much of which, I believe, will need to be confrontational if we are to pay any attention to the urgent timeframes that our C02 emissions leave us.

Environmentalism and colonisation

Coming from Australia, I realise, has thankfully made me more sensitive to the intersection of processes of colonisation with environmental degradation – though I still have much to learn. Still, I expected more from the conference than an optional (and poorly attended) keynote and workshop on [de]colonisation on the last day of the conference. Without making these links early on, we will consistently fail to create just solutions. Anna Lau gave the pertinent example of a wind farm that had, in its physical demand for land combined with a lack of proper democratic deliberation, effectively furthered the dispossession of marginalised communities from their homelands. We need to listen to these stories and histories to ensure that we are not lulled into false solutions that create larger rifts. I think this is also true of development work – we must always be asking if ‘solutions’ to socio-environmental issues, particularly technological ones, are empowering the communities they are targeting. And I think it’s important to think critically about what ‘empowering’ might mean – in terms of autonomy, dependency, and diverse ways of considering ‘quality of life’. Asking the people who stand to directly lose or gain is probably a good place to start!

Meeting the crisis

The people I met at the conference were brilliant, and I look forward to keeping in touch and working together in the future. In them, I saw bright brains and hope and a commitment to creating change. However, I also saw glimpses of a reluctance to consider ideas that challenged the system, and even, occasionally, a disdain for those that did. ‘Change from within’ was a running piece of advice from some of the keynote speakers – and sure, many of us are probably well positioned to work within the systems that already exist, and push for gradual change over time – after all, it’s naïve to conflate tactics with politics. But unless we are well equipped with a critique of those systems, and a vision for what a socially and ecologically just system might look like, how could we be expected to be successful in these endeavours? How are we to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes as generations before us? If WSEN isn’t the space for those conversations – active conversations, where students are part of the dialogue, not recipients of a lecture – then we need to question its purpose.

‘Sustainability’

And then, the question of sustainability initiatives. I am torn. As an environmental science student I do deeply see the value in trying to reduce coffee cup waste, promote recycling and reuse – these actions have tangible impacts on ecosystems in our lifetimes. But unless we address the underlying ideological commitments in structures that pursue accumulation of profit and erosion of collective welfare, I see these projects as limited. The time for tinkering around the edges of environmental damage is gone, if it was ever appropriate in the first place. I am desperate to see young people who are angered by the carnage of capitalism, intersecting with oppression along various lines of othering, that directs our research and shapes our ideas of possible careers, of quality of life, of our capacity to collectivise and imagine a world made meaningful by a language other than money.

 

Futures

Still, there are many things we can do, and the conference reaffirmed by belief that local action can be extremely effective. Organising collectively for both resistance and resilience can challenge existing oppressive structures while at the same time creating just and sustainable spaces & ways of relating to the world and each other. Communicating and actively promoting solidarity between local groups is powerful. We can do this around food, work, and living spaces – so much is possible.

However, I also leave this week feeling quietened. I am more conscious that I live in one of the echo chambers I am so quick to critique; more aware of the immense questions of strategy and commitment to action that are required to meet the crisis we face. I have not lost hope. I just feel a little weary, as I am sure many do. There is so much work to be done that it is difficult to know where to begin. Indeed, maybe it is not ‘beginning’ that needs to happen at all, but continuing and communicating and supporting.

But hey! I’m just one ‘dirty hippy’ student from Sydney who will probably think and feel differently about this tomorrow. Tell me what you think – any number of brains is better than one! What are the things students concerned about environmental issues are good at? Could improve on? Have at it –

Uranium ‘UnAustralian’ say Protesters

Scoring a six never felt so good. Today anti-nuclear protesters played a cricket match against uranium at the Lizard’s Revenge festival at Roxby Downs. The demonstrators called the nuclear industry ‘UnAustralian’.

‘It’s not welcome here’ said Tim Johnson, ‘it risks our water, land and people. We don’t want any part of the nuclear chain – the mines, the power or the waste’.

Yesterday the protest turned glamorous with a parade of Frocks on the Frontline, synchronised mass dances and performances. More solemn expressions of dissent included three minutes of silence to remember Fukushima – the Japanese power plant that exploded in 2011 and spread radioactive dust as. Several protesters and police officers shed tears during the silence. The uranium used in Fukushima was mined at Olympic Dam.

Later today, a wind and solar-powered cinema night is planned to demonstrate that sustainable energy sources are viable alternatives to nuclear power.

Over three hundred protesters have gathered from all around Australia to voice their dissent to the mine’s expansion. If expanded, the Olympic Dam uranium mine will be the largest open-pit uranium mine in the world. It will use 42 million litres of water from the Great Artesian Basin each day in the driest state on the driest inhabited continent on earth. The South Australian government provides that water to BHP at no charge. Eight million litres of radioactive waste will leak into the underground aquifer each day. By the end of the mine’s life, radioactive tailings equivalent to nine Sydney Harbours will be left on the surface of the land forever.

Uranium 'UnAustralian' say Protesters

Scoring a six never felt so good. Today anti-nuclear protesters played a cricket match against uranium at the Lizard’s Revenge festival at Roxby Downs. The demonstrators called the nuclear industry ‘UnAustralian’.

‘It’s not welcome here’ said Tim Johnson, ‘it risks our water, land and people. We don’t want any part of the nuclear chain – the mines, the power or the waste’.

Yesterday the protest turned glamorous with a parade of Frocks on the Frontline, synchronised mass dances and performances. More solemn expressions of dissent included three minutes of silence to remember Fukushima – the Japanese power plant that exploded in 2011 and spread radioactive dust as. Several protesters and police officers shed tears during the silence. The uranium used in Fukushima was mined at Olympic Dam.

Later today, a wind and solar-powered cinema night is planned to demonstrate that sustainable energy sources are viable alternatives to nuclear power.

Over three hundred protesters have gathered from all around Australia to voice their dissent to the mine’s expansion. If expanded, the Olympic Dam uranium mine will be the largest open-pit uranium mine in the world. It will use 42 million litres of water from the Great Artesian Basin each day in the driest state on the driest inhabited continent on earth. The South Australian government provides that water to BHP at no charge. Eight million litres of radioactive waste will leak into the underground aquifer each day. By the end of the mine’s life, radioactive tailings equivalent to nine Sydney Harbours will be left on the surface of the land forever.

Save the Kimberley campaign benefit gig Adelaide

In aide of the ‘Save The Kimberley’ campaign, SASEN is putting on a benefit gig here in Adelaide to raise much needed funds and awareness for the cause. Supported by ASEN, The Wilderness Society and the Save The Kimberley campaign, its sure to be an awesome night!

The amazing local community members from around Broome in W.A. have banded together to put a stop to their beautiful home being exploited by Industrialisation. One of the imposing threats is from the mining giants – Woodside, Shell, Chevron, BP and BHP as well as the Premier of WA, Colin Barnett are pushing for a 2500ha gas processing plant development at James Price Point, just north of Broome. For more info, visit www.savethekimberley.com

Since early June, the local community have been blockading the proposed gas plant site, and have weathered police violence, industrial bullies with bulldozers as well as bush fires this week. They need support from the rest of the country – this is where we come in!

September 10th
The Jade Monkey
$10 entry
9pm

featuring local bands…
Minority Tradition
Priority Orange
Red Light Sound

There will also be a petition banner to write a message & sign on the night.
All funds and the banner will be taken up to Broome and presented to the members of the ‘Save The Kimberley’ campaign.

There is also an opportunity for someone to join a few of us travelling up to Broome in mid September to present our banner and funds raised to the local community.

If you’re interested in coming with us, email me for details 🙂  cristelchambers@hotmail.com

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